Home Inspector Tip: Time to Inspect and Clean Your Gutters

It is not a task we look forward to, but if you have gutters on your house or commercial property, they require maintenance to function properly.  Gutters not functioning properly can lead to water spilling over or leaking from the gutters, damaging the fascia,  soffits, siding, roof, and framing of the property.  Malfunctioning gutters and/2015-10-16 11.54.44or downspouts can also result in water entering your basement or causing erosion.

Contrary to what many think, gutters do not cause ice dams. However, if gutters are clogged or not functioning properly water and ice can collect.  As gutters fill with ice, they can fail and rip away from the house bringing fascia, fasteners and downspouts along with them.

If you have not done so already, it is time to make sure your gutters are ready to perform the important task of directing water away from your property. This is especially important now that most of the leaves are gone (at least here in Maine) and before snow flies.

While there are tools designed to clean your gutters from the ground, you should inspect the gutters, down spout, hangers, etc. from a safe ladder before and after performing any cleaning.  If you do not feel safe on a ladder, or do not have access to a safe ladder of sufficient length, it is worth it to hire someone to inspect, clean and repair your gutters to make sure they work properly.


In addition to inspecting, repairing, and cleaning the gutters and downspouts, it is also important to make sure there is an extension at the bottom of all downspouts to shed  water away from the property. I recommend a minimum of 3 feet. There should also be a splash block at the end of all extensions to help eliminate erosion.

I also recommend you inspect your gutters and downspouts again in the spring to make sure they survived the winter.


Posted in Gutters, Home Maintenance, Ice Dams | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Home Inspector Tip: American Red Cross Offers Free Smoke Alarms

Combination Smoke CO AlarmThe American Red Cross has joined forces with the State Fire Marshal, local fire departments, and community partners on a campaign to reduce deaths and injuries from home fires in Maine by 25 percent. The program, called the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, was launched in 2014 and includes the installation of free smoke alarms.

Please see below for information on the program, or call (207)941-2903 x113.


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Home Inspector Tip: How to Prevent Dryer Fires

According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), dryers and washing machines were involved in one out of every 22 home structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments in 2006-2010. In 2010 alone, an estimated 16,800 reported U.S. home structure fires involving clothes dryers or washing machines resulted in 51 civilian deaths, 380 civilian injuries and $236 million in direct property damage. Clothes dryers accounted for 92% of the fires. The leading cause of home clothes dryer and washer fires was failure to clean (32%).

I regularly encounter dryer vents and/or pipes clogged with lint during my home inspections.  Unfortunately, this situation may be a tragedy waiting to happen if the dryer overheats and the lint, which is very flammable, catches on fire. The good news is that this type of fire can be prevented with a modest amount of effort and little, if any expense.


Here are some tips from the NFPA on what you can do to prevent a dryer fire:

  • Do not use a dryer without a lint trap.
  • Clean the lint filter before or after each load of laundry and remove any lint which has collected around the drum.
  • Use a rigid or flexible metal vent pipe instead of plastic.
  • Make sure the exhaust vent pipe is not restricted and the vent flap operates when the dryer is on.
  • At least once a year, and more often if it is taking longer than normal to dry your clothes, clean the lint from the vent pipe and the exhaust vent, or have a lint removal service do it for you.
  • Turn the dryer off if you leave home or when you go to bed.
Posted in Fire Safety, Home Maintenance | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Home Inspector Tip: Test Your Well Water

We all want our drinking water, and the water we use to cook, bath, etc. to be safe and not harm our plumbing, discolor our laundry, etc. If you live in a town or city where the water comes from a municipal source, the local water district tests the water on a regular basis to make sure it complies with EPA and Maine standards to insure it is safe to drink and does not contain certain contaminants. If your water comes from a well, whether drilled or dug, it is up to you as the homeowner to test your water.

The State of Maine recommends that well water be tested every year for bacteria, nitrates, and nitrites and every 3 to 5 years for certain other chemicals, including radon and lead.  Here is a link to a brochure prepared by the State which sets forth its recommendations concerning testing well water.

The State of Maine also recommends that the water in all homes, even if the water is not from a well, be tested for lead with what is referred to as “first draw lead” test, every 10 years for homes built before 1990 when lead soldering was banned. Because the source of lead is usually NOT the ground water, but the plumbing, a unique sample is required for a first draw lead.

Despite the recommendations of the state, in my experience as a home inspector, very few people regularly test their well water after they buy or build a home.  When I collect water samples to be tested on behalf of a home buyer and the test reveals the presence of something which makes it unsafe to drink, such as coliform bacteria, arsenic, or fluoride, the property owner is notified and he/she is usually very surprised to discover the water is unsafe to drink.  The same applies when other contaminants are detected in a test which make the water hard, may corrode plumbing fixtures, etc.

Testing is relatively inexpensive depending on what you want to test for. You can hire a home inspector or other professional to collect water samples to have your well water tested. This allows you to have your water sampled by a professional for not much more than what it would cost you to do the test yourself taking into account water samples require overnight shipping if you are testing for bacteria.

If you are going to collect the samples yourself, you can order a test kit from one of the labs certified by Maine to test well water.  Here is a link to website which lists the certified labs in Maine.The kit will come with instructions on how to collect the samples.  For those of you who prefer video instructions, such as myself, here is a video which explains what you need to do. Water Testing Equipment

Regardless of whether you are going to do it yourself, or hire someone, I encourage everyone to regularly test their well water. Doing so is the only way to know that it is safe for you and your family.


Posted in Water Quality | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elevated levels of radon gas from concrete used to build homes and condo complex in Georgia

Very interesting news story from Georgia regarding elevated levels of radon gas from concrete used to build homes and a condo complex in Georgia.  I have not heard of anything like this in Maine.  However, it reinforces the importance of testing for radon gas as it is the only way to know if the level in your home, or the home you are in the process of buying, may pose a risk to your health.


Thanks to fellow MeCHIPS member Roger Roy for sharing this news story with me.

Posted in Indoor Air Quality, Radon | Leave a comment

Home Inspector Tip: Time to Inspect Your Decks, Balconies and Exterior Stairs

Deck failure photo

Good weather will soon be here, or at least we hope this is the case. Spring is an ideal time for property owners to inspect their decks, balconies and exterior stairs before family and friends start gathering for birthday parties, graduations, barbecues, and other events.  A recent tragedy highlights the need for property owners to perform these inspections this spring. On April 22, a Portland man fell from the third floor balcony of an apartment house after the railing he was leaning against gave way. The man died from his injuries.

Incidents such as the one in Portland are not unique here in Maine. In December of 2009, a second floor deck collapsed in Orono and several people were seriously injured.  In June of 2005, a second floor deck at an apartment building in Ft. Kent collapsed during a party, resulting in 15 people being injured, including five who were taken to a hospital. There are many more incidents where people are injured which do not generate the publicity of these events which were reported in the media.

In addition to dealing with the emotional trauma of a family member, friend, guest or tenant being injured on your property, a property owner could be held liable for the damages resulting from the injuries if he/she is found to have been negligent with respect to the design, construction or maintenance of the deck, balcony,  stairs or railing system.

There are several conditions which can lead to the failure of a deck, balcony, stairs or railing system.  These include:

  • Improper design
  • Structural defects
  • Inadequate anchoring of the structure to the property
  • Improper fasteners
  • Railing systems of inadequate height, lack of proper balusters, or systems not securely attached
  • Exceeding the maximum weight limit
  • Improper support of the deck, balcony or stairs
  • Lack of proper maintenance

Whatever the cause of the failure, it likely could have been prevented had the system been inspected and any deficiencies properly repaired.

If you own a home or apartment building which has a deck, balcony or exterior stairs, I recommend you inspect them now, and again next spring.  If you are not sure what to look for, have a contractor or home inspector perform the inspection for you. If you are a tenant and observe what you think is a problem with the deck, balcony or stairs where you rent, bring this to the attention of your landlord.  If a problem is detected, repair it promptly. You, and everyone who will be using the deck, balcony, or stairs, will be glad you did so.

Here are several videos on what causes decks to collapse, including a collapse caught on video.

Posted in Decks, Balconies & Railings, Home Inspections | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Home Inspector Tip: How Indoor Allergens & Pollutants May Impact those with COPD

This newly released video from the IAQ Video Network discusses how people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also known as COPD, may be impacted by exposure to indoor allergens and pollutants.


Posted in Indoor Air Quality | Leave a comment

Chinese Made Laminate Flooring Sold by Lumber Liquidators Unsafe Due to Formaldehyde?

According to the following report which appeared on 60 Minutes on March 1, 2015, Lumber Liquidators’ Chinese-made laminate flooring contains amounts of toxic formaldehyde that may not meet health and safety standards.


Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen that is added to the production of some wood flooring products. This Tech Tip video from the Indoor Air Quality Association (http://iaqa.org), discusses regulations related to formaldehyde emissions from wood flooring products.

I do not recommend anyone make a decision, or come to any conclusion, regarding any laminate flooring purchased from Lumber Liquidators based solely on the 60 Minute report, or the video from IAQA. I will post additional information concerning this flooring as it becomes available.

If you have any questions concerning testing for formaldehyde, or indoor air quality issues, please call 944-7425.

Posted in Indoor Air Quality | Tagged , , , , | 28 Comments

Home Inspector Tip: Test Your Home For Radon


Posted in Indoor Air Quality, Radon | 1 Comment

Home Inspector Tip: 15 Tools Every Homeowner Should Own

by Nick Gromicko and Ben GromickoStandard plunger
The following items are essential tools, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to ask an InterNACHI inspector during your next inspection about other tools that you might find useful.
1.  Plunger
A clogged sink or toilet is one of the most inconvenient household problems that you will face. With a plunger on hand, however, you can usually remedy these plumbing issues relatively quickly. It is best to have two plungers — one for the sink and one for the toilet.


2.  Combination Wrench Set

One end of a combination wrench set is open and the other end is a closed loop. Nuts and bolts are manufactured in standard and metric sizes, and because both varieties are widely used, you’ll need both sets of wrenches. For the most control and leverage, always pull the wrench toward you, instead of pushing on it. Also, avoid over-tightening.

3.  Slip-Joint Pliers

Use slip-joint pliers to grab hold of a nail, a nut, a bolt, and much more. These types of pliers are versatile because of the jaws, which feature both flat and curved areas for gripping many types of objects. There is also a built-in slip-joint, which allows the user to quickly adjust the jaw size to suit most tasks.

4.  Adjustable WrenchCaulking gun

Adjustable wrenches are somewhat awkward to use and can damage a bolt or nut if they are not handled properly. However, adjustable wrenches are ideal for situations where you need two wrenches of the same size. Screw the jaws all the way closed to avoid damaging the bolt or nut.

5.  Caulking Gun
Caulking is the process of sealing up cracks and gaps in various structures and certain types of piping. Caulking can provide noise mitigation and thermal insulation, and control water penetration. Caulk should be applied only to areas that are clean and dry.
6.  Flashlight
None of the tools in this list is of any use if you cannot visually inspect the situation. The problem, and solution, are apparent only with a good flashlight. A traditional two-battery flashlight is usually sufficient, as larger flashlights may be too unwieldy.
7.  Tape Measure
Measuring house projects requires a tape measure — not a ruler or a yardstick. Tape measures come in many lengths, although 25 feet is best.  Measure everything at least twice to ensure accuracy.

8.  Hacksaw
A hacksaw is useful for cutting metal objects, such as pipes, bolts and brackets. Torpedo levelHacksaws look thin and flimsy, but they’ll easily cut through even the hardest of metals. Blades are replaceable, so focus your purchase on a quality hacksaw frame.

9. Torpedo Level
Only a level can be used to determine if something, such as a shelf, appliance or picture, is correctly oriented. The torpedo-style level is unique because it not only shows when an object is perfectly horizontal or vertical, but it also has a gauge that shows when an object is at a 45-degree angle. The bubble in the viewfinder must be exactly in the middle — not merely close.

10.  Safety Glasses / Goggles
For all tasks involving a hammer or a power tool, you should always wear safety glasses or goggles. They should also be worn while you mix chemicals.

11.  Claw Hammer
A good hammer is one of the most important tools you can own.  Use it to drive and remove nails, to pry wood loose from the house, and in combination with other tools. They come in a variety of sizes, although a 16-ounce hammer is the best all-purpose choice.

12.  Screwdriver Set
It is best to have four screwdrivers: a small and large version of both a flathead and a Phillips-head screwdriver. Electrical screwdrivers areWire cutter sometimes convenient, but they’re no substitute.  Manual screwdrivers can reach into more places and they are less likely to damage the screw.

13.  Wire Cutters
Wire cutters are pliers designed to cut wires and small nails. The side-cutting style (unlike the stronger end-cutting style) is handy, but not strong enough to cut small nails.

14.  Respirator / Safety Mask
While paints and other coatings are now manufactured to be less toxic (and lead-free) than in previous decades, most still contain dangerous chemicals, which is why you should wear a mask to avoid accidentally inhaling. A mask should also be worn when working in dusty and dirty environments. Disposable masks usually come in packs of 10 and should be thrown away after use. Full and half-face respirators can be used to prevent the inhalation of very fine particles that ordinary facemasks will not stop.

15.  Duct Tape
This tape is extremely strong and adaptable. Originally, it was widely used to make temporary repairs to many types of military equipment. Today, it’s one of the key items specified for home emergency kits because it is water-resistant and extremely sticky.
Posted in Tools | 1 Comment